A good designer will build from the ground up. Identify the building lines, set up a clear floor plan and then proceed with the plaster and the bricks. Only then should you even think of applying the paint.
It’s the jam inside the jar that really counts.
How you design your website should be the cumulative expression of ‘how’ and ‘why’ people arrive on your website. Addressing these issues at a visual and navigational level first should put you on the right track.
In the old days we would talk about how many ‘visitors’ you had to your website but successful design in the future might benefit from a change in our common understanding of this event; we need to re-draft the conceptual plot behind it, bring about a paradigm shift, of sorts, and we can start by altering our language a little; the people arriving on your website are not ‘visitors’ but ‘users’.
The distinction isn’t as subtle or as superficial as you might think.
Take the house where you live. If I said I would like to be a ‘visitor’ to your house you might not have enough beer in the fridge or enough food in the cupboards to indulge me for very long, but you’d probably be cool with the idea. On the otherhand, if I said I wanted to be a ‘user’ of your house you’d probably freak.
Visiting is a more passive, more submissive guest experience. The visitor must adapt to the rules set by the host, whether it’s taking off their shoes, sitting down to watch Eastenders or having to refrain from farting.
A guest at a hotel, on the otherhand, would have an entirely different set of expectations. In this situation, the host would be little more than a baggage handler. Feelings of deference would switch from ‘visitor’ to the host. And anyway, when was the last time you ‘visited’ a hotel?
Using is about consumption. Just changing the words we use re-drafts the conceptual plot and rewrites the expectations not just of the host but of the guest.
Make this switch now and you’ll start designing better websites.
Visitors are spectators; ‘users’ perform. It’s clear from the phrases we use, whether we’re talking about ‘user action’, ‘user engagement’, ‘user response’, ‘user-goals’ or ‘user-input’, we are talking about direct engagement. If the experience isn’t user-centric, you may as well put up a sign that says, ‘no vacancies’. Here’s five things to bear in mind:
- Start by defining a clear business and clear user objective and strive to maintain consistent trade relations. Your site is your trade agreement.
- Structure the content hierarchy in way that best serves those business and user objectives.
- Erect only those signposts that your user needs for that journey. Abide by clear navigational rules.
- Discipline yourself to one objective per page. Having emphasis fall on several different elements on a page is like having dozens of different voices screaming for your attention, so keep it focused.
- Everything on your website should support that business and user objective, if it doesn’t it has no place being there and may well be the web equivalent of an Escherian stairwell – a road that leads nowhere.
- Every page element should solve a specific problem for your user. If it doesn’t it’s just bling.
The hero of your story should be the ‘user’ not the ‘visitor’. Whilst we continue to confuse these characters, we’ll continue to lose the plot.
My advice? Forget you ever had a ‘visitor’. The next time one arrives, pretend you’re out.